Toads in the Hole

Bob Skinner. Toad in the Hole, Source Material on the Entombed Toad Phenomenon. Fortean Times Occasional Papers, 2, 1986.

Like the animals of the title, Fortean Times's Occasional Papers series has been resurrected after lengthy quiescence, and this scholarly study shows that the project is still full of life - not always the case with the entombed toads featured in reports culled by Bob Skinner across a 200-year period.

'A brief overview of the literature' paves the way for Robert Plot's discussion of the phenomenon and its possible causes (1696), followed by Annual Register's 1791 extract of cases translated from the French of Delafond. The longest section of the monograph comes care of Philip Henry Gosse (The Romance of Natural History) which quotes the classic but slightly misleading Buckland experiments when a number of toads were put to the immurement test under controlled conditions - and fared rather better than later writers seemed to have realised.

Balancing this, Andrew Wilson's barely-polite and not-too-persuasive Leisure Time Studies piece (1879) seeks to reduce the thing to tales "devoid of actual foundation". But consider the final section on 'Some eye-witness accounts' ranging from c.1575 to 1943 and you may concur when Bob Skinner remarks that sceptical demolitions of the Wilson type fail to recognise a most salient point; the accounts of the entombed toads need to be divorced from all the fanciful and improbable theories which attempted to explain them. The price paid for such speculation was that the flaws in thinking tended to discredit the accounts themselves, but it seems that the modern zoologists quoted on page 6 are more enlightened, In short, after years of neglect the accounts are now more or less taken as acceptable - regardless of what the explanation behind them might be.

Supported by extensive foot-noting and a bibliography that is worth the price on its own Toad in the Hole can't fail to become a standard text, And it ought to remain that way until the author has a chance to supercede it with a much longer, still more detailed toad study which he's currently preparing, Ambitious publishers, please take note!-- Michael Goss, from Magonia 25, March 1987.

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